The first time I walked into a teachers’ meeting for our department, I thought I was at a casting for the “Breck Girls.” Strangely enough, none of the women I refer to as the “Breck Girls” were born when these icons of feminine beauty advertised this brand of shampoo.
For at least six weeks, I managed to shy away from the young blondes who looked as if they had just walked out of a wheat field. I avoided the redheads whose wholesomeness shouted, “Americana!” Even the brunettes had a je-ne-sais-quoi about them that convinced me that I was somehow foreign and alien.
The only other ESL instructor I seemed to bond with was the gentleman who described himself as “grandfatherly,” brought his guitar to the English conversation corner and, incidentally, had married a Mexican woman. Somehow I had been misled into thinking that only men were allowed to marry “out,” acquire several languages and otherwise be adventurers. The feminine “adventuress” has always had a negative connotation.
Then one day in the adjunct faculty room, I discovered that we all had the same concerns about being taken seriously as female professionals, especially by younger male students from cultures where women do not usually hold positions of authority. I found out that my age and ability to flow from one culture to another were an advantage. And what’s more, my colleagues want me to converse with them in Spanish so they can become more fluent in a non-threatening environment.
I have resigned myself to the fact that I never looked like an iconic “Breck Girl” even in my twenties. And the ones I envied for their unadulterated beauty are now seeking the company of the one who will always be asked, “Where are you originally from?”